He was speaking on Thursday 10th January, 2019 during AYV’s Wake Up Sierra Leone programme. He went on to say that the Free Quality Education (FQE) programme is anchored in the education sector plan and that the first component of the education sector plan of this country is access, equity and completion
“You cannot think about equity without talking about inclusiveness; equity, and fairness to everybody. So the children of this country who are disabled are going to be thoroughly catered for within the framework of the national free quality school education programme,” he said, adding: “If you listened to the address of the Minister of Basic and Secondary School Education during the launch of the learning and teaching materials, he clearly stated that all the reading materials we have procured are going to be translated into Braille. We have already engaged Thomas Alieu who is the recognized Braille writer in this country and very shortly, these materials would be translated into Braille,” Mr. Sowa said.
In response to questions posed to him about the timeliness of such an arrangement and whether it would not put visually impaired school children at disadvantage, he replied that even children that are not visually impaired have not yet got these materials.
He said: “The President pronounced the FQE in August and we started to work. We were even expecting that these books would have been in this country long before now. But everything takes time. We have brought in these materials and as we are distributing these materials to the children, we are working on also having the materials in Braille so that visually impaired children can use it equally.
He however used the opportunity to assure all organizations that are promoting the interests of disabled children that before the end of this academic year, these materials would be available to all children who are visually impaired.
On how soon the materials would be distributed especially in ‘hard-to-reach’ areas in the country, Mr. Sowa maintained that distribution started on Thursday 10th January, 2019 in the Western Area. He added that the core textbooks in Math and English are already in the sixteen districts headquarter towns across the country and that as soon as they have district launches on Monday 14th January, 2019 immediate distribution of the materials to the respective schools starts the same day.
On the issue of effective monitoring of the free textbooks to ensure they reach the intended targets for the intended purpose, Mr. Sowa told AYV that “as the President has said; anybody caught with these books who is not supposed to have them in his possession, would not only face the full penalty of the law but would also be named and shamed.”
He went on to say: “Since we started the process, we have been collaborating with different stakeholders. We have been working with the local councils, the district education offices, civil society and the press. We’ve been working with structures that oversee the interest of the teachers, for example the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union, the Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools, and the National Council of Head Teachers. In fact, it was with all these stakeholders that we developed the guidelines regulating the use of these books. Monitoring these books is not going to be one man’s business. It is going to be everybody’s business. We’ve spoken to the police, the local councils, paramount chiefs, and we have also set up structures; we have district coordinators, we have regional coordinators, and at the ward level government set up ward education committees. They have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the free quality education programme at ward level. They’ll be responsible to even check and pop into schools unannounced to oversee the use of these books; and ensure each child has a book.”
He went on to say that they also have a monitoring and evaluation unit within the secretariat that is developing a framework for the overall implementation of the free quality education programme.
“But talking about monitoring of these books - as we distribute, we’ve set up teams that will move across the country. These teams are comprised of various stakeholders including local councils, civil society, and the press. We are going to move around the country and ensure that the distribution is smooth, equitable and done without any hitch,” Mr. Sowa said.
He allayed the fears of the general public that contrary to earlier speculations that the textbooks were of inferior quality, he said it was proven at the recent launch in Freetown that the textbooks are of very high quality in terms of printing and texture.